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All dolled up: China sex toys play for real

Named for her height, she is a high-quality sex doll made of thermoplastic elastomer, a rubbery material softer than silicone, with adjustable hands, a removable head and genitals, and available from specialist shops in Beijing for around $2,500.

Liu — who did not want to give his full name — has one among the few possessions in his dimly lit studio apartment, deep in an industrial suburb of the capital.

Like millions in China who leave their hometowns to work in the cities, the 29-year-old automobile designer leads a bachelor's life during the week, returning to his wife and toddler in neighbouring Hebei province every weekend.

Liu has been married for more than a decade, and does not want to be unfaithful, but still needs to satisfy his sexual appetites.

"Honestly, it is very easy to just pay a little money to find a woman in China, but I simply cannot bring myself to cheat on my wife, so I have never considered it," he said with a nervous laugh.

But a blow-up alternative was not an option. "There was no way I would have sex with that kind of cheap inflatable plastic," he explained.

Instead he forked out 15,800 yuan, almost a month's pay, for his more realistic Chinese-made "156".

Her removable parts make cleaning or replacement easier, but despite lengthy prior research — Liu can explain subtle differences between an exhaustive list of Chinese and foreign doll brands — he was disappointed.

"As an industrial designer I can't neglect the lack of realistic details," he lamented. "So I just used it a few times."

"The only way a doll is better than a woman is that it won't resist, so people can do whatever they want with it," he added.

Liu bought his doll from Micdolls in Beijing, where salesman Yi Jiange said proudly: "Most people think the dolls are more attractive than real women."

They come bald, with customers buying wigs for them according to their own preferences.

Some models are also significantly shorter — more akin to child-size — than "156", for "convenience" according to Yi.

His clients - whose needs and preferences he discusses over a cup of tea — are usually professionals or business owners in their 30s and 40s, and he praises them as morally upright.

"If a married man refuses to see prostitutes and uses a doll instead, isn't it admirable?"

Buyers include user's wives, claimed Yi, but he admitted that many clients' partners "don't quite accept" such dolls.

"My own girlfriend doesn't agree with my work that much either," he added.

China's puritanical Communist Party decried decadence during its first decades in power, and while conservative attitudes are still widespread, economic reforms have brought the country more sexual freedom, and a plethora of sex shops.

The Chinese sex toy market is estimated at up to 100 billion yuan per year by the business-to-business sex toy platform

Currently the life-like dolls — of which "156" is just one of many models available — represent only a fraction of that.

But Micdolls owner Zhang Han is going into production, expecting business to boom on the back of China's severe gender imbalance.

In the face of a traditional preference for sons and the one-child policy in the world's most populous country, sex-selective abortion is common — albeit illegal — and almost 116 boys are born for every 100 girls in China, far above the global average of 107.

As a result it has a growing shortage of women. "Many young men in China have difficulty finding girlfriends or socialising with women," said Zhang. "That's why they might use a doll as replacement."

"Many previously reclusive young men have made friends through the online doll community," he added. "Having any kind of hobby is better than having none, right?"

He also plans to experiment with a male doll for women.

For some buyers, dolls are not about sex, but love. Calling themselves "friends of dolls", anonymous individuals gather on dedicated online forums, sharing user reviews and advice.

Their numbers have risen from a few hundred to more than 20,000 in recent years.

One forum user posted a lengthy article titled "My happy life after getting a sex doll", and another shared pictures of a doll named "Lin Lin" -- who has her own account on Chinese web message service QQ — in her new clothes.

Most people initially buy a doll for sex, explained salesman Yi. "Then they will start to dress them up in different costumes... and probably end up naming them like a human being. Eventually some kind of sentiment is involved."

But for Liu, "156"'s soulless heart can do nothing to fill the emptiness of his bed.

"It doesn't satisfy me at all, nor arouse any emotion in me," he said. "A doll's perfection is derived from mathematical calculations, but it will never be more beautiful than a woman because she has a soul, expresses emotions and shows reaction.

"To me it has absolutely nothing that's better than a real woman, but I can at least try to deceive myself with it," he confided.


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Swedes become first journalists convicted under Anti-Terrorism Proclamation

The Federal High Court third criminal bench in a verdict that drew international media attention

and elicited international responses ranging from concern to outrage on December 27, 2011 sentenced two Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson to 11 years in jail each, for illegal crossing of a sovereign land and supporting an outlawed armed group; Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF); which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian Government, through their profession. The Swedish pair are also the first journalists to be convicted and sentenced under the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. The pair was caught on July 1, 2011 deep inside the borders of Ethiopia’s Ogaden region purportedly with two ONLF fighters following an armed skirmish between the Somali region special police force and dozens of ONLF fighters. The two ONLF fighters were sentenced to 17 years imprisonment on November 4, for being members of a terrorist organization that waged war on the Ethiopian government.

The pair had said they crossed the border into Ethiopia from neighboring Somalia after a stay in the Puntland regional city of Galcakyo to investigate the activities of Swedish oil Firm Lund which had come under severe scrutiny for its involvement in the neighboring country of Sudan, which had been involved in a bloody civil war.

Puntland is a relatively semi-autonomous region of Northern Somalia that borders the lawless southern Somalia to the south and the self declared republic of Somaliland to the north.

The Swedish pair had earlier met with an ONLF representative named “Abdi” in London, United Kingdom before flying to Nairobi, Kenya and then to Somalia in between which they talked to supposed refugees from the Ogaden region living in the large northern Kenyan refugee camp Dadab.

The Swedes who, after a three month trial were convicted on two separate counts on December 21, by the court, had the prosecution ask for a total of 18 years and six months as punishment for the pair but the court ruled that they would be subjected to 14 years and six months imprisonment which were reduced to 11 years in light of the numerous mitigating circumstances brought by their defense team.

The 11 year sentence was divided into two parts with 10 years made for supporting terrorism through their journalistic profession while a one year sentence was for illegal entry into the country.

The prosecution also asked that the audio and video evidence as well as other documents seized as exhibits from the pair be expropriated by the Ethiopian State to which the defense raised no objection and the court ruled that the exhibits be confiscated by Ethiopia.

The pair, who had listened to the court hearing impassively, kept silent but looked shaken when the verdict was read out detailing their sentencing.

Outside the courtroom one of the lawyers for the defense Silsehi Ketsela was surrounded by journalists and anxious family members of the Swedish reporters and said he was working with his clients to an appeal and that a decision would be made soon while also commenting that the chances of an appeal succeeding are 50/50. An appeal has to be made within 15 days of sentencing.

However he would not be drawn into whether the clients would possibly ask for a pardon saying if or when a pardon is asked it is the government’s prerogative.

The story has become international news and some like the Pan European news channel Euronews reported that Swedish media reports had suggested the conviction and sentencing of the Swedish pair was a political act aimed at Sweden. One of the opposition leader’s Birtukan Mideksa who was released from prison in 2007 after a government pardon for her “role” in the 2005 post election violence was jailed in December 2008 reportedly after she recanted her pardon deal with the government while talking to opposition supporters in Sweden.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had subsequently in 2010 said that the Ethiopian government was closing its embassy in Stockholm, to focus on economically viable embassies around the world citing its concurrent decision to open an embassy in the South American country of Brazil.

France24 reported that the Swedish lawyer for the family of the sentenced Swedish pair said while the sentence was not as harsh as the prosecution had wanted it was too “brutal” for people trying to do their journalistic activities.

Aljazeera English had a different angle reporting that the mother of one of the sentenced Swedes saying that the sentence was not as harsh as she had expected and that the reduced sentence might be a sign that something might happen in the near future.

The sentence also elicited responses from concern to outright condemnation from governments’, international bodies, international Human rights Organizations and international press freedom watchdog groups.

The Swedish government echoing a strong but measured response given by Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt after the Swedish journalists’ earlier conviction of the charges on December 21 gave a statement by way of Deputy Foreign Minister of Sweden, Frank Belfrage saying the sentencing was not unexpected but was extremely serious taken against the background of their journalistic mission.

The statement continued to read that every legal step will be taken in consultation with the imprisoned pair and their team of lawyers. They said they already had made contacts with the Ethiopian Government at a high level and their focus was on freeing them. It is also mulling measures in collaboration with other partners, among them the European Union and the US with a view to freeing them as soon as possible.

The EU’s spokesperson of High Representative Catherine Ashton also raised the issue of the sentencing of the pair under the Anti-Terrorism proclamations while acknowledging that they had entered the country illegally raised concern that their sentencing under terrorism related charges made them worry about the freedom of media and expression in Ethiopia.

The US state department made a somewhat nuanced concern stating that while acknowledging that the pair had not disputed them entering Ethiopia illegally it raised concern about their conviction on terrorism related charges which it said equated reporting about “terrorism” with “the support of terrorism”. The statement further goes on to say that the US recognizes the authority of the judicial process in Ethiopia and respected the Ethiopian government’s legitimate concern about terrorism and the need to protect the country’s national security, it will continue its dialogue with the Ethiopian government on press freedoms and human rights, while continuing to monitor the ongoing trials of journalists on terrorism-related charges a subtle reference to other Ethiopian journalists in Ethiopia and in exile that have been charged with terrorism related charges.

International Press Freedom Watch dog groups such Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Human Rights Organizations like Amnesty International also condemned the Verdict.

Bereket Simon, minister at the Government Communications Affairs Office rejected criticisms of the conviction and sentencing of the Swedish pair saying the government has looked into the statement of the EU high commissioner and the Swedish government on a matter he said everybody knows was adjudicated by a court that found them guilty on two charges of illegal entry and that of assisting the terrorist organization ONLF professionally.

“They’re telling us that the pair have not engaged in criminal activities, rather they were caught and punished engaging in journalistic activities and duties, when in fact it’s not related to press freedom and journalistic activity as they were caught red handed with the act and sentenced by a court,” Bereket told Capital.

He further said when people in the EU and other developing countries break laws nobody raises issues, while in Ethiopia and other developing countries all the press organizations make an outcry;however the government as such stands by the decision of the court which has applied the rule of law.

Bereket wouldn’t be drawn on issues of pardon the pair may ask or other reports suggesting they could be pardoned by the Ethiopian government, saying the government’s only focus now is the implementation of the decision of the judiciary.


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No proxy medicines for cancer

The alternative systems of medicines that are said to cure cancer can actually kill the patients. That is the bitter lesson to be learnt from the tragic case of film actor Jishnu Raghavan who died of cancer on Good Friday. In a Facebook post in April last, he had admitted to using the herbs Lakshmitharu and Mullatha, but said his condition had only worsened.

Jishnu, who had throat cancer, had tried many other alternative medicines suggested by friends and family. But the cancer had spread to his lungs as well. “The herbs couldn’t control my tumour and rather took me to a very dangerous situation…I will never suggest it as an alternative to the already proved medication…Please don’t advice this to anybody as an alternative to chemotherapy or any formal medication and mislead people…It is very dangerous…And never believe forwarded messages on social media blindly,” Jishnu said in his post dated April 21, 2015.

Oncologists and cancer survivors say that the patients should stick to one form of treatment. Otherwise, the drug interaction would aggravate the disease. Dr. V. P. Gangadharan, senior consultant and head of the department of medical and paediatric oncology at Lakeshore Hospital in Kochi, echoes the same opinion. Dr. Gangadharan vouches that he sits in the hospital until 11 p.m. at times to save the lives of the cancer patients.

“If I can save at least four patients, it matters. But what is depressing these days is that patients come back to me in a worse condition after their friends and relatives take them for alternative therapy. They tend to stop the medication when they go for alternative therapies which aggravates their condition,” said Dr Gangadharan who also had treated Jishnu.

He cites the cases of his own patients, who had shown remarkable progress in allopathy treatment, but who went for alternative therapies at Kalpetta or other tribal hamlets and suffered. A patient who had stomach cancer started taking Lakshmitharu and Mullatha when he should have taken only oral food. Another patient developed severe burns on his scrotum after taking some herbs which resulted in skin allergy. Even the other day, one of his patients came to him after he was fleeced by an alternative medicine practitioner in Kattapana by charging Rs 1.5 lakh for three courses of medicinal herbs.

“Propagating alternative medical therapies amounts to killing a patient. Strict norms should be enforced by health and legal authorities against it,” added Dr. Gangadharan. A senior doctor belonging to Thrissur Amala Medical College told DC how Sebi Vallachirakkaran, former public relations officer at IMA blood bank, Thrissur, a cancer patient with malignancy, claimed that he was cured with Lakshmitharu and popularised it.

But recently he died due to disseminated malignancy. Actor and Chalakudy MP Innocent told DC how people from all walks of life had come to him with advice on alternative therapy or to meet a vaidyan or a hermit claiming permanent cure for cancer.

“Fortunately, I have not fallen for such fallacies. People come to me with Mullatha and I don’t eat it. It’s up to the patient to decide what kind of treatment he or she should undergo. In my case, I have been undergoing treatment under Dr. Gangadharan and I trust him completely,” said Innocent.

Dr. K. P. Aravindan, retired professor and head of pathology at Kozhikode medical college hospital, recalled that patients tend to fall for fallacies propagated by educated people. Strong legal action must be taken against them, he said.

A leading palliative care specialist at Regional Cancer Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, said that one never knew the active ingredients and some may be detrimental, due to the presence of heavy metals which can cause renal failure.

“Going for alternate systems of medicines is like the last floating straw for the patient or the family. A sour soup costing Rs 8 per kg in Chalai market here earlier is being sold now for Rs 150 after a report that it can reduce cancer incidence/ cure/improve immunity,” he said.

He added that when the doctors speak the truth of the disease trajectory, patients go from one system of medicine to another. When wisdom dawns on them, it is too late. “Cancer is an emotive word and if the truth is told in the proper way (dose the truth and time the truth), patients will not try alternative systems of medicines,” he said.

Jury still out on herbal cancer concoctions

The herbal concoctions Lakshmi Tharu (simarouba glauca) and Mullatha or sour sop (graviola) are popular among cancer patients as alternative medicines. The leaves of paradise tree aka Lakshmi Tharu, a native of South and Central America, are taken as a decoction as a complement to chemotherapy.

Initially, the patients vouch for its efficacy. Many internet sites advertise and promote graviola capsules as a cancer cure but none of them are supported by any reputed scientific cancer organisations. In laboratory studies, graviola extracts have been found to kill some types of liver and breast cancer cells that are resistant to particular chemotherapy drugs. But there haven’t been any studies in humans, say oncologists.

Ms V. S. Biba, a post-doctoral research fellow, who is doing research on cancer cure through Mullatha and Lakshmi Tharu at Regional Cancer Centre, told DC that she doesn’t believe that Jishnu’s cancer had aggravated just because he had taken Lakshmi Tharu and Mullatha.

She feels that the cancer must have spread already to other parts of Jishnu’s body. Ms Biba’s research had bagged ‘Best paper award’ at Botanica 2012, a two-day international seminar held at SN College, Chempazhanthy. She is also the winner of ‘Young investigator award’ at International Conference on Biosciences held at Kumarakom in 2014.

“I had identified two compounds present in Mullatha which can effectively destroy cancer cells with little side effects. The compounds have been tested on mice for toxicity and efficacy for curing cancer and the mice was free of it. But the research is ongoing and it is too early to comment further on it,” she said.


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